Thus Sudan Splits, What’s Next for the Aspiring Rest?: Tanmoy Sharma

Guest post by TANMOY SHARMA

Pro-separation activists hold signs and chant pro-independence slogans outside the Juba airport in southern Sudan, on Jan. 4, where Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived. Photo credit: Pete Muller/AP/File

To add to the tumultuous political dynamics of Africa, the world is most likely to see a new country adorning its map by the middle of this year with the two-way split of the continent’s largest country, Sudan.  For Africa, which has again hit the international headlines for fresh troubles in Ivory Coast, Tunisia and most recently in Egypt, civil wars based on identity and protests against despotic governments are nothing new. However the larger question that has kept many wondering is whether the world is going to see a new era of a large-scale statebirth with the formation of South Sudan, a process that almost stopped barring the examples of Kosovo two years back or East Timor ten years back. As millions of jubilant south Sudanese in the city of Juba, went to vote in a long awaited independence referendum in the second week of January to see their war torn region emerge as a new nation, it will be important to revisit the troubling status quo of other regions of the world demanding secession.

Although there is a slight anxiety of the African leaders over the formation of the new state, the world as a whole has hugely welcomed the move. Specially, many in the western press have opined that secession is the only way forward for the South as the ‘long marriage between Sudan’s Arab-and-Muslim north and its black, animist and Christian south’ has always been unhappy and disastrous with the constant conflict fuelled by ethnicity and oil. During the course of the 50 year long brutal conflict, around 2 million southerners have died in their struggle for freedom. Africa’s longest civil war till date, this north-south conflict had gained momentum  when the military ruler General Nimeiry in 1983  suddenly imposed strict Sharia laws for the  nation with the intention of transforming Sudan into a completely Muslim Arab state which sent a wrong message to  the  already autonomous Christian South.  Late John Garang, the first secessionist national leader from the South took side of the Western powerhouse after the collapse of the socialist block. His former deputy, Salva Kiir is going to be the President of the new nation of South Sudan. With the surrendering support of the Sudanese President Omar Hasan al Bashir ,The United States has certainly taken a tricky advantage of the situation by being a key architect of this internationally sanctioned referendum (promised in 2005) to  hack apart the Arab-Muslim world.  However to maintain stability, the USA  must have a balanced policy as China too will finally start cultivating good relations with the South as it has a huge stake in the oil sector.  Even leaving aside the diplomatic equations, the sentiments and aspirations of all the South Sudanese make the idea of a new nation look perfectly alright.

However on the other hand, the all-time stand of the African Union (A.U.) against the divide of countries on the basis of ethnicity and religion fearing probable violence and new civil wars opens up the flipside of this international debate. Apart from the unresolved issues of border demarcation, the burden of debt on the shoulders of the South, sharing of oil revenues, poor infrastructure of the South and the dispute over the oil producing province of Abyei, there are other dangers as well, smelled by the AU. It is everyone’s common knowledge that experiments of secession, especially in the case of the mineral rich Katanga from Congo or that of “Biafra” from Nigeria had miserably failed in the past but led to the loss of more than a million lives. Again, there is a possibility of a serious conflict over the issue of oil export through the North as the South will be a totally landlocked country with no coastal lines. Prevalent ethnic   tensions between different groups within and along the boundary of South may also raise violent attempts of secession.

Whatever the apprehensions may be, what is more important now  to see is what impact this Independence of South Sudan will have in the other  quasi states and sovereignty aspiring regions of the world where frustration and agony have reached an all time peak. The precedent set by this exercise of self determination culminating in sovereignty, may pacify the process leading to an independent Palestine sometime very soon as the Palestinian leaders  are pushing for their national sovereignty within the 1967 borders of the country. History may soon witness a fully sovereign Kurdistan nation state carved out from a fractured Iraq. Given the way things are happening in the new millennium, the international relations experts are even not ruling out the possibility of an independent South Ossetia or a Somaliland or a Darfur. The story of Kosovo and South Sudan, as opined by many, will no doubt encourage the Indian separatists as well.  This will surely raise some serious questions on the ignorant attitude of the Indian state towards a similar referendum proposal for Kashmir by the United Nations Security Council in 1948. The Indian government will also need to look into the “Nagalim” question more seriously in order to keep up its image with fast changing international diplomacy.

At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, when things in the modern world are resembling more with the tumultuous political dynamics of the medieval era, the voice for partition and self determination of every second group is getting louder and stronger. It is the job of diplomacy to decide which voices are legitimate and which are not as emotions often lead to a catastrophe. At the same time, all sovereignty demands can also not be ruled out as oppressive governments in many parts of the world have made life hell for the masses. However one thing is certain, without democratic mass support neither violence nor sanction can bring full freedom. Equally, there can be no real peace if a state arrogantly and brutally sticks to its claim over a region, whose people never want to be a part of that state. If South Sudan’s model succeeds tomorrow without any outbreak of violence,  a few more nations coming out of full mass support  and freed from repressive regimes, doesn’t seem like a bad idea for a better and peaceful new world!

For more information:

1)     Dividing Sudan,  by John Cherian, Frontline Magazine, February 11, 2011

2)     South Sudan- A Necessary Sedition, The Economist Newspaper

3)     Language and National Identity in Africa,  edited by Simpson, OUP

(The writer is a student at Delhi University. Contact: tanmoysharma91 at gmail dot com.)

One thought on “Thus Sudan Splits, What’s Next for the Aspiring Rest?: Tanmoy Sharma”

  1. This article is a very well researched and balanced one. I like the various references to other secessionist movements as they help paint a fuller picture about how difficult the issues of self-determination and secession have been for the international community to resolve.

    I believe that the Southern Sudan referendum could potentially set new norms on secession within the African Union, however this should not create a carte blanche for each and every other liberation movement. In my view, secession needs to be granted as a remedy of last resort, where widespread and egregious human rights violations have taken place against particular minorities or state sub-groups and national governments are wholly unwilling to grant autonomy in the exercise of self-determination.


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